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Mol Microbiol. 2004 May;52(4):1201-14.

Regulation of type III secretion in Bordetella.

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Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, 10833 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90095-1747, USA.


The BvgAS virulence control system regulates the expression of type III secretion genes in Bordetella subspecies that infect humans and other mammals. We have identified five open reading frames, btrS, btrU, btrX, btrW and btrV, that are activated by BvgAS and encode regulatory factors that control type III secretion at the levels of transcription, protein expression and secretion. The btrS gene product bears sequence similarity to ECF (extracytoplasmic function) sigma factors and is required for transcription of the bsc locus. btrU, btrW and btrV encode proteins predicted to contain PP2C-like Ser phosphatase, HPK (His protein kinase)-like Ser kinase and STAS anti-sigma factor antagonist domains, respectively, which are characteristic of Gram-positive partner switching proteins in Bacillus subtilis. BtrU and BtrW are required for secretion of proteins that are exported by the bsc type III secretion system, whereas BtrV is specifically required for protein synthesis and/or stability. Bordetella species have thus evolved a unique cascade to differentially regulate type III secretion that combines a canonical phosphorelay system with an ECF sigma factor and a set of proteins with domain signatures that define partner switchers, which were traditionally thought to function only in Gram-positive bacteria. The presence of multiple layers and mechanisms of regulation most likely reflects the need to integrate multiple signals in controlling type III secretion. The bsc and btr loci are nearly identical between broad-host-range and human-specific Bordetella. Comparative analysis of Bordetella subspecies revealed that, whereas bsc and btr loci were transcribed in all subspecies, only broad-host-range strains expressed a functional type III secretion system in vitro. The block in type III secretion is post-transcriptional in human-adapted strains, and signal recognition appears to be a point of divergence between subspecies.

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